Jet Cars and the Starter's Table
By Herman Marchetti
The starter's table is an important part of the track. It is where the starter keeps the button to start the cars. More importantly, it is where he can keep his drink and cigars ready for immediate use. I have worked at Spokane Raceway Park for the last four years and the same table that was there when I started is still in use. It is a 2x4 plywood frame top and three sides covered. About four feet tall and four feet wide. The open side faces the starter when he launches the cars. It has been around for quite a while.
In 2002, the opening big race was the Lilac City Funny Car Championships. We had about eight funny cars ready to run that Saturday night and a full drag program. It was very cold for May and I was wearing a long sleeve fleece shirt under my insulated nylon jacket for warmth. With qualifying complete, we were running the first round of eliminations and it started to rain. Not a good sign for the immediate future. We rolled some cars forward to the starting line to keep it covered. Luckily the rain did not last long, this time. A little bit of sweeping and we started running cars again. After a few rounds, it started to rain again. We once again rolled cars to the line. Once covered, it started to rain buckets.
I sat in my truck for about a half hour before it quit. Now the track was a mess. We swept the puddles off the starting line but the racing surface was just soaked. Some one had the bright idea to run cars on the surface in an oval pattern to help dry it off. These cars were leaving rooster tails of water as they ran around. Then these "racers" started spinning donuts and various other stupid things so we put a stop to that.
The next "great idea" came from Neil Hanson, the owner/driver of the "Brain Damaged" jet dragster. Never trust a jet car driver. "We'll just bring the dragster and the jet funny car to the line and we will dry it off for you," he said. Okay. The fans paid to see something; might as well give them the jet cars. Out they came. The wet fans were beginning to stir and it looked like this would keep them at the track for a while longer.
As the cars fired up, I walked to the starter's table with Troy Moe, the track manager. As the cars were pulling to the starting line, Troy picked up the button to start them on their way. The table is about seven feet behind the starting line. Both cars rolled forward and PAST the starting line. Then they stopped and hit the afterburners. With the brakes locked. The heat was intense! The flames were 12-feet away and that was all I could see. Troy and I jumped behind the starter table and squeezed ourselves into the 4-foot by 4-foot opening, pinned to the ground. Behind the table it was rather comfortable. But if any part of your body got outside of the plywood sides of the table, it literally would burn bare skin. My right calf was outside the table and burning hot. I squeezed in a little tighter.
Troy said, "How the f--- did we get here!?" and "Don't stand up, whatever you do!!" Stand up? Hell, I was about halfway to China digging with my fingernails through the asphalt. The afterburners shut down and we stood up a little to see if we were clear. Nope. The cars rolled forward about 50-feet and lit the burners again. Down we went again. The heat was not as intense as before but you still could not stand up. After about five-minutes behind the table, we were able to get clear.
Moral of the story......NEVER TRUST A JET CAR DRIVER.
P.S. After surviving this event intact, I walked back to my truck, thinking how lucky I was. When I got to the truck my son and a couple of his buddies were waiting for me. My son says, "What happened to your coat?" I check it out and the whole right back of my nylon jacket has melted away. I proceed to tell the story ending with "You didn't see us pinned there?" "Nope." I am just thankful that it had been a cold night. If I hadn't been wearing that jacket, I would have had on that fleece shirt and it probably would have ignited and turned me into a Tiki Torch. I no longer stay at the starting line for the jet cars, needless to say. Nitro funny cars? Top fuel? You bet. Not a better seat in the house than between those two cars when they run.
Herman Marchetti, 2003